A South Florida doctor killed himself Thursday, two days after police say he killed a beagle outside his home, clubbing the dog with a hammer and stabbing it with a screwdriver.
Dr. Isaias Lerner Biber, 65, who had an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, was found dead inside his Bay Harbor Islands home by a family member about 5:30 p.m., according to Miami-Dade County police. Officers are investigating his death as a suicide.
Lerner Biber's death startled and saddened residents of the close-knit island community, said Councilwoman Solange Rousselot.
"My condolences are with his family and with his soul," Rousselot said. "We don't have those kinds of events."
She said people shouldn't leap to judgment. "Our police department works very well, and I'm sure they will get all the information," she said.
Mayor Isaac Salver said he didn't know the doctor, but said that he "only heard from his friends and neighbors he was a good person."
Reached by phone Thursday night, a woman who identified herself as Lerner Biber's family member declined to comment, saying she wanted to respect relatives' privacy. "I think right now they need time to be quiet," she said.
On Tuesday, Bay Harbor Islands police arrested Lerner Biber on one count of animal cruelty with intent to kill, a third-degree felony.
The doctor told police that he was fed up with his beagle's misbehavior. He said he attacked the dog because it "was defecating and urinating in the residence and kept running away," said Bay Harbor Islands police Capt. John Robertazzi.
Bay Harbor Islands police said two witnesses told officers they saw the man repeatedly hit the dog — tied to a tree outside the doctor's home — on the head with a hammer, according to an arrest report.
One witness said the man then impaled the dog with a screwdriver in the area of the dog's ear and throat, "with what was described as a grinding motion," the report said.
Hours before the doctor's suicide Thursday, the medical office in Coconut Creek where he practiced said it no longer was affiliated with him. In a telephone interview, a staff worker who identified herself as Medalys said: "He's no longer with our practice. That's all we have to say."
The doctor's death seemed part of "a tragic series of events that unfolded over the last couple of days," said Jay Glickman, 55, of Coconut Creek. Glickman was a patient at the medical office where Lerner Biber had worked. "The whole thing is upsetting, but it doesn't change anything about how I feel about the office," Glickman said. "I love the office; they have met my medical needs and take care of everything."
A Venezuela native, the doctor graduated from the Central University of Venezuela in 1969, state records show. In Florida, he completed his graduate medical education through a fellowship at Mount Sinai Medical Center in the mid-1970s. His specialty was cardiology.
Some who had met Lerner Biber said he acted professionally.
"I've seen nothing wrong in him," said Carlos De Leon of Margate, who said his mother was Lerner Biber's patient. "He's a normal person."
De Leon said his own mother had suffered a "mini-stroke" and that Lerner Biber treated her well during her recovery in recent months. He called the circumstances of Lerner Biber's arrest "strange."
The doctor allegedly admitted that he struck the dog an unknown number of times on the head with a hammer, and that the dog wobbled for a while before dying, an arrest report said. He gave a "verbal and written confession" to the crime, the report said.
Robertazzi, who has been on the force about 25 years, said he had not encountered an animal cruelty case that went "to this extent" or that was "as severe as this one."
Lerner Biber's legal case wasn't the only one he had, records show. A professional malpractice lawsuit, filed against him and a medical group in June, was pending in Broward Circuit Court, records show.
In 1981, a state medical board reprimanded and fined him after he helped a woman practice medicine without a license by swearing that she had graduated from a university when she hadn't, records show.
In the animal cruelty case, it would have been up to the state Board of Medicine to decide whether the doctor retained his medical license. Florida law says doctors are subject to discipline if they are convicted, found guilty or plead no contest to a crime linked to the practice of medicine or the ability to practice medicine.
However, "arrests in and of themselves are not" grounds for discipline, a state Department of Health spokeswoman said. But under Florida law, if evidence of a violation is found and the board of medicine enters a discipline order, a doctor faces a range of penalties — from probation and a $1,000 fine to revocation of a medical license and a $10,000 fine.
"Law enforcement processes are entirely separate and independent of DOH administrative processes," said Ashley Carr, a health department spokeswoman. "A law enforcement arrest may lead
to criminal discipline, while DOH discipline is administrative."
In an email, Carr said that Thursday the doctor's license had remained listed as "currently clear/active."
George F. Indest III, an Orlando-area lawyer who primarily represents physicians in licensure complaints, said a key part of whether the doctor would have faced discipline hinged on whether a Florida law outlining the terms of discipline applied to his animal cruelty arrest. Lerner Biber was not a client of Indest's.
A state board may have argued that cruelty and inhumane treatment, as well as impaired judgment, hindered the doctor's ability to practice medicine and therefore merited discipline, Indest said. But the doctor could have said that the animal cruelty case didn't pertain to his duties. He could have argued he didn't abuse a person, and that there is nothing about animals in the Hippocratic Oath, which doctors take.
Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.
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